Integration of Muslims - Dream or Illusion?

Posted in Broader Middle East | 05-Jul-05 | Author: Dieter Farwick

A famous Amsterdam coffee shop - you get more than coffee

When I lived with my family in The Netherlands, Dutch people were very proud of their way of living together with ethnic and religious minorities. They regarded their country as a blueprint and case model for the rest of the world. In their view, they had successfully integrated immigrants from the former Dutch colonies and – later – from the Muslim world.

This picture was destroyed by one event: The murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh on November 2, 2004. A Muslim extremist of Moroccan descent with a Dutch passport murdered him. Theo van Gogh became a victim due to his controversial film about the Muslim culture – especially the maltreatment of women. The film is based upon information from the Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a Somali refugee. She received death threats and renounced the Islamic faith but continues her fight for a better life for women in the Muslim world.

Almost out of the blue, hidden mutual distrust, antipathies and animosities created a “multicultural drama.” The murder of Theo van Gogh was the beginning of the end of a – on the surface – peaceful coexistence.

Dutch people had to learn that their previous way if living together with ethnic and religious minorities was more the result of “tolerance of indifference” than of a tolerance based upon mutual respect. The various ethic and religious groups had built their own world – like ghettos – well taken care of by the Dutch welfare system and safeguarded by an extensive liberalism. Parts of society were living separately or parallel in the same country. This dream has come to an end.

A second event that brought The Netherlands into the headlines – the rejection of the European constitution – might be another reaction to the perception of unsolved problems – including immigration.

What is the way ahead for The Netherlands and many other countries facing the same or similar problems? The situation in Berlin is very similar to that of Amsterdam.

Even worse seems to be the explosive situation in London as the barbaric attacks of July 7th have shown. Following the worldwide terrorist attacks in Iraq, Asia and Europe it is obviously time to develop a "double-track strategy" against terrorism. We have to continue the present fight against those who plan and undertake terrorist action. In parallel, we must - in a mid- and long-term common effort - tackle the sources of terrorism. It is necessary to exercise patience and common political resolve to achieve a better end.

With our newsletter “Too Tolerant of the Intolerant: The Netherlands' Multicultural Drama” written by Jeremy Hurewitz, we continue to aim for a “constructive dialog” between all religions. On our home page we have installed a platform for an open discussion. We do not want to restrict ourselves to just a dialog between Muslims and Christians. Together with our readers, we would like to develop a code for mutual respect – such as:

  • All foreign groups should respect the fundamental rules and laws of the host nation they choose to reside in

  • All host nations should give foreign groups and individuals a fair chance to integrate and participate

  • Freedom of worship for all religions should be protected in all countries in a reciprocal manner

  • No group should be forced to assimilate - they should integrate

  • Learning the host nation’s language is the first step to integration and participation

  • Extremists and terrorists should be expelled

  • The social position of women should be enhanced